Category Archives: Weekly Session Blog

Weekly Session Blog #14: Breathing Fear: Monday 9th December 2013


The week unfolded in heavy gusts of winter wind, inspiring Musical ARC to write about the terrifying powers that overwhelm Raj Kumara in The Mango Tree.

It was time to craft the mystifying, frightening music that precedes the princess being chased by a demon in the story. Inevitably, we turned the lights off and decided to get spooked.

From a cold and vacant space there emerged an undercurrent of crackling synth, rustling through bodies and breathing fear down necks. A reco-reco (a bit like a guiro, used in Brazillian music) was scraped with painful anticipation. Every miniature bridge was one step closer to the sound of the nails of evil, scraping on the conscience of the Arc.

A sense of madness boiled over, as the dissonant crescendo of the horns swelled.

Panic. Growing in the vastness of the woods, where it seemed panic could never outsize.

It was a feeling, deep-rooted in the murky mud beneath the princess’ dainty sandals, a frozen terror that escaped from the muted screams of the deadened weeds around it.

It was a feeling that today, we made.

My heart goes out to Emily, our new volunteer. After this eerie showcase, she must be fooled that we never make sweet and melodious music…!

Monday 9th December 2013 Musical ARC pretending to be demons.

Monday 9th December 2013 Musical ARC pretending to be demons.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #13: Garden in Full Bloom: Monday 2nd December 2013


Musical ARC fondly re-visited that heady scent of jasmine, radiating from the gentle tones of one of the show’s opening themes, The Garden. Just a couple of weeks away from an early draft of the recording (not to mention Christmas!), it was somewhat relieving to have a piece ready that we could rehearse from our book of evolving creations.

Despite advent’s long nights, small dark days and the fact that most of the wildlife in the scene would be currently hibernating, the session injected liveliness and warmth into our lives.

Psst. A little birdy also told me that a cameraman could be on his way just shy of Christmas, ready to shoot some of Musical ARC in action at the pinnacle of its Mango-induced energy. Watch this space!

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #12: Into the Blue Monday 18th November 2013


Pushing through a gold and grey November, the Meanwood crowd assembled to further its new-age musical continuum.

In addition to the ornamentation of Classical Indian vocals, Lorraine had us focusing on a new element entirely. This musical stream included… actual streams, in fact. Shortly before, we had been merely discussing the use of watery sounds in music, and how we might use these to illustrate the scene in the show where the Princess is sinking – a blend of relief and poignancy as she moves further from the talons of a demon, and further into the blue, away from the arms of Raj Kumar. This is a point in her life where the ‘fight or flight’ effect has solely taken over and she’s plunged into deep waters in an attempt to save herself, unaware of the 7 year distance she will experience from her lover.

Through sheer empathy, we’d grabbed just about every type of kitchen vessel you could imagine (straws, bowls, jugs, wine glasses, you name it), and we found ourselves filling them with tap water, blowing raspberries, pouring at different heights and speeds, striking at different pitches and weights, and circulating glass edges with our fingertips, in anticipation of a mermaid’s piercing whistle.

2013-11-18 Musical ARC crew play with straws

2013-11-18 Musical ARC crew play with straws

Groups departed and, quite literally, swam through the oceans of their musical minds. In the main rehearsal space, a posse of about six of us crowded around to examine the watery possibilities of a Roland PK-5 keyboard. We soon discovered that a sombre bass line, played by Shehnaaz, was the way forward in creating a balanced level of movement and meditation in our listeners, as freer waves of sound curled above.

After a worthy session of composition, we returned to shallow waters. And we hoped our listeners wouldn’t forget to hold their breath.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #11: Chasing Ideas Monday 11th November 2013


You’ll never guess what..? We went to warm up in our circular formation once again, and a joining of souls found us diving headfirst into a new composition. A simple few calls and responses were made; the flavours of worldwide jazz (and crazed game shows) gave us fever. In true Arc flavour, we thought, “why the heck shouldn’t we layer this stuff up?” – It was sounding pretty groovy, after all.

What materialised was a skeleton of The Chase. The music for this section of The Mango Tree shall elevate the fear and urgency felt during Raj Kumara’s unfortunate encounter with a demon in the gloomy forest. The beautiful princess is running as far away as she can from her enemy, eyes wide, at the near expense of her body parts.

The session was dedicated to the transferring of our earlier, recorded vocal movements into instrumental effects. We were in high spirits at the entry of a new band member, Andrew, who I hear is a great singer. During today’s process, we witnessed some keen general musicianship and focus coming from his direction, as he lost himself gladly in the hullabaloo of a glockenspiel, then the rhythm of a beating drum. In fact, it was relieving to not find Andrew immediately terrified at our suddenly-speedy work ethic. He had caught us at the very core of our craft.

A shot of the Musical ARC group in action on Monday 11th November 2013.

A shot of the Musical ARC group in action on Monday 11th November 2013.

D.B’s sound of the day was (rather aptly!) a harassing, thrashing and startling orchestral hit, reminiscent of the hot terror and panic felt when a cup of tea slips off a kitchen surface in slow-mo, for what seems like years. Lia and Robert were driving forward in fiery fashion, ringing alarms with every chime, in doses of brilliantly-strident, Carnival feel. The calamitous action was laden with jerky, high horns (Mave, James and me), a relentless off-beat rhythm from the keys (Shehnaaz and Vickie), and DJ Rob’s experimentation of something much smaller and more acoustic than usual.

As Lorraine and Martin’s eyes darted through direction and occurrence, they showed flashes of a dramatic and wonderful existence for Musical Arc. Here, in the present.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #10: The Palace Monday 4th November 2013


Refreshed from half-term, we decided to start capturing the thoughts and feelings in The Mango Tree that we had gleaned from prior weeks. The prototype of the material would be ready to hit the recording studio sometime before Christmas- it was time for action.

The rehearsal this week was spent focusing on the music for The Palace. In our minds, we were high up in the mountains, and overlooking the majestic valleys of India…

… A flute emerged, with creature-like undercurrents that climbed onto the craft of the storyteller. As this purpling colour ebbed away, it was greeted by the regal, warm strength of a fiddle. Circulating around the Arc, it was as though the words themselves were conducting such changes of musical stroke. As though the chapters were a big paintbrush, a collective of sound and colour merged in its abundant strands. Next, we witnessed the varied palette of an electric foot-pedal keyboard, the shades always in reach of a searching voice. Following this, a caste of chimes- wooden, metal, busy or sparse. Naturally, the pulse progressed to a waltz. A glimmer of magnificence mirrored us as we “Oom Pa Pa-ed”, in the same vein as marble palace floors could mirror waltzing steps.

We had begun, with our minds and bodies, a motion picture soundtrack.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #9: Lyrical Bubble Monday 14th October 2013


The term continued in alarming possession of a red balloon. We began to show our true colours as storytellers, with each pass of the prop leading to a twist and turn in the plot. Beginning simply with the phrase “I opened my closet to find…”, we were suddenly on par with the Chronicles of Narnia- Though behind the doors of this other world was our imagination. Here, red balloons with feigned illegal status and burger joint drive-through chases existed.

Fragmenting from this comedy, we formed an Arc in the hall. Well, more of a circle actually… We’ve started doing this thing where we warm up socially, physically, mentally, vocally, expressively- but away from the instruments. It really has given the Meanwood sessions a new lease of life, since we’re preparing for a lot of musical focus at once. It encourages us to be fully absorbed in the pitches and possibilities that fly in the air between us; it encourages us to support one another with physical exercises that are simple for some and not necessarily for all. Martin began today by instructing that we all limber up like puppets, as dependant as one of Rebekah’s bobbing shadows. It was as though we disconnected from our limbs, disconnected from our insecurities. For a moment, only invisible string could hold us at the pinnacle of our brains.

Today was possibly one of the longest stretches of time we have spent in this bubble. It began as a natural progression of simple sounds in succession, and soon represented a wild, moreish torrent of acapella. Feeding from vocal phrases as they layered one-by-one, we drummed, played trumpet solos, climbed ladders of “yipeeeeeeeee!”. Anything goes. So, when Martin called that we depict an emotion as agreed, we jumped at the chance. “Sadness”, said James, looking up. Sure enough, Fred proceeded with a moody blues that put my mind in a smoky room. Liah’s high range lamented solemnly, and soon chords were soaring, eyes were closed, hairs were standing up at the backs of necks and we were almost ready for our movie soundtrack edition. That was, until, DJ Rob sent us happily bonkers with his “Getting down and funky” statement in the next piece. Bodies were shaking to the beat, and joy was certainly felt by all.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #8: Kickin’ off those Pixie Slippers… Wednesday 26th June 2013


Weeks upon workshops have passed us by. With every minute, they have brought success, downfall, invention, creation, absence, recovery, movement, expression, growth and…. continental breakfasts (that one definitely brought Arc’s VIP status to another level). I shall kick off my pixie slippers, shove aside a pile of risk assessments, caffeine and bells, and take a moment to reflect.

So, there was St. Patrick’s and its wildly imaginative, pulsating poetry, “the moon is made of cheese, and the sun is hot like a thousand red jalapenos” (if only I had kept the name of this budding artist).

Deighton Gates, you welcomed our mini Arc to Wetherby with the many trinkets of your music store cupboard. It was a pleasure to dust off the tambourines and take those chime bars for a stroll.

Whinmoor, Oh Whinmoor! I was honoured to walk in on your angelic “Happy Birthday” rendition, after Lorraine thought it would be hilarious to send me out of the hall for ‘something vital’ during assembly. You made being another year older seem a lot less crumby. Birthday aside, we were minus much of the usual troop at this event, so had to work twice as hard to give the original plan a new lease of life. Everybody pulled together and made this experience not only possible, but highly fruitful. We also said farewell to Vicky P, who is gallivanting across the globe to NZ as we speak. We wish her all the luck in the future.

Birchfield Primary workshop… I may have been coughing up goblins in my bed at the time (another mystery illness that has captured me lately), and I may have missed out on your amazing hospitality. But, by gum, did I indeed hear all about the croissants! Arc were overjoyed by your welcome and reported back in high spirits.

There was Raynville, where Rebekah joined us once more with her stimulating aura of shadows. This first-class comeback saw children being awed by the vintage tapestries of shadow theatre, before making their own puppets. In other news, I found myself revived once more under the spell of Lizzie’s saxophone, one of Arc’s new volunteers.

The morning of Churwell’s workshop was not as spritely as usual, what with feverish symptoms and broken bicycle chains resulting in a forgotten volunteer. However, our predicament was dulled somewhat by the wonderfully Scottish greeting of our ‘posh caretaker’, who escorted Arc from the gates to their Green Room. This school were constantly mindful of any access requirements we may have, which can make a huge difference in the outcome of any workshop that Arc delivers. The vibe brought with it a productive and lively day.

Bring on the finale, this coming Monday at White Laith. This time with all volunteers attached.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #7: The Festival of Green-Room Hops


So folks, it’s been a busy time of late, with all Musical Arc VIPs hopping from one green room to the next in a whirl of Equal Sounds. What began as a tiny seed of thought, a small taste of success, is growing to become a weekly reality with every school visit. Talking of seeds…! We have been regularly embodying them in Mel’s classic warm-up alongside some mystical alap on flute and violin, inspired by the many colours of India. Other features of the workshops have included Shehnaaz’s touching base with children’s ideas of disability through her talk on day-to-day life, group performances including all elements of the workshops and pending action from our lively Shadow Artist, Rebekah Caputo.

Our hard work and presence was warmly received in Sharp Lane and Alwoodley primary schools, where we witnessed all angles of their communities offering something unique to the string of events. Crystal clear is the notion that we live in a society where many are used to rule and order, which may seem a logical response to the patterns of today’s working man. So you can imagine how fulfilling it is to see school pupils really able to let go and give it some welly in the workshops, whether that be through a burst of chime bars selected at random or a pencilled line on a page leading to creative places a child never saw in the light before.

We’re seeing true potential in them; we’re feeling enthusiasm, creativity and groove in us all. The experiences we are knee-deep in now are continuing to teach us valuable lessons as teachers, showing us how we can express ourselves more clearly and directly. As we leave trails of this energy along the Leeds pathways of education, equality ripens.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #6: Monday 25th March 2013 Broomfield Special School (Workshop Blog)


A season of Equal Sound workshops commenced at Broomfield today, a school for disabled children of South Leeds between the ages of three and 16. The unique nature of this setting meant that only a humble handful of Arc’s musicians attended, leading a series of tailored interactive sessions. With every gathering, new flashes of insight welcomed us to the many ways of communication and response through music.

Mave’s trumpet fanfare gave signal to a collection of arms reaching high in the air, stretching into the spaces above us as much as we could. Robert’s xylophone was the soundtrack to our stretching at arm’s length; while Vicky’s thunderous drums beckoned us fiercely towards the ground. This atmospheric exercise was the first way we related pitch to our senses, by feeling the air around us at different heights. By the fourth run of this exercise, Mave and I had become so comfortable in the space that we (the horn section) had morphed into pixies, leaping and bounding across the circle to our own songs.

The interactive sessions also saw us demonstrate and share Arc’s collection of handheld percussion instruments, bringing a true flurry of stimulation through the rush of rain-sticks, octachimes and conversation. A keen desire to discover and use new sounds was felt in the pupils’ overall reaction. The creative flair I witnessed in some individuals is etched in my memory, where an ear for rhythm and an eye for melody seemed to stem from the need to simply ‘have a go’.

Following a morning of touching base, interaction and playing group music, Musical Arc members served as VIPs in the sensory room, inviting some children to hang out and break routine for the afternoon. Tea and biscuits naturally progressed into a mellow jam that paid homage to The Black-Eyed Peas and Bob Marley.

Meanwhile, Lorraine and I had left the group to go and spend some time with some other children within the school that we had not yet met. These children, unable to draw parallels in communication in the same way that we do, responded to our sounds in very different ways. Some chose to sit and listen or face away, others wanted to touch our instruments and be as present in our personal space as they could be. Lorraine and I travelled about the room, letting the children lead the way to our own interpretations.

Without words and language, we collectively sailed to and from conscious harmony.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #5: Monday 4th March 2013 Arc in Unity


This afternoon, the ARC assembled in a balanced session of listening, sharing, learning and jamming. Kick-starting the springtime with an inventive game of “Pass the balloon”, heads ducked and arms reached at the beck and call of member’s names. This sparked an intriguing chat about our favoured (and desolately distant, in some cases) ages, where we became nostalgic of our newborn and twenty-something selves for all of five minutes. Yet in true Musical ARC fashion, we remembered to focus on the ‘here and now’, and did what we could to make this day see refreshing steps towards our collective and personal goals.

With the support and feedback of all involved in the ‘Equal Sound’ workshops, a demonstration of a morning’s school assembly was led by Shehnaaz. This vital ingredient of the workshops gives the opportunity for a disabled member of the group to sit and lead a discussion on the topic of their personal disability, prompting and answering any questions that pupils may want to ask about their day-to-day lives. Although today’s talk was carried out for the purpose of practicing the structure and execution of this area, what was more profound was the insight and advice exchanged between Shehnaaz and us. Despite the assumption that we had her best interests at heart, it was only today that we found out how her nails had been coloured in such a trendy way, or how she attends to her culinary demands. The difference between terms such as “visually-impaired” and “blind” was also visited, as well as the subjects of mobility, travel and the use of Braille. This fulfilling and fascinating conversation is one that will happen more in future, driven by those disabled members that wish to come forward and share with the group.

Another segment of today’s events was dedicated to ‘Musical Mix’. This section of the workshop enables small-group learning to commence, with children indulging in a sequence of bite-size lessons led by members. For example, James and Vicky (the brass team!) would greet each small group and have a few minutes to introduce themselves, their instruments and perhaps perform or teach a snazzy trick or two. Using a role-play format once more, we revitalized our skills in this area and ensured our ‘Musical Professor’ hats were steadily in place in preparation for this term’s grand series of workshops.

The productive session was closed with a well-deserved, let-your-hair-down practice of “Wendy Ya Ho”, a stimulating classic that really sets the sounds of Musical ARC free.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #4: Monday 11th January 2013 Equal Sound


Musical ARC folk were elevated by this week’s news. We have ten workshops confirmed in succession, throughout March and beyond. Forever remaining close to our primal goals, it is invigorating to know that we’ll be bringing them to new destinations: An array of Primary Schools.

We hope to raise awareness of the disability arts of Leeds, and challenge notions of what it means to be disabled. We want to promote positive role-models of people with impairments, by grabbing life’s horns and letting-rip in the music. We shall leave imprints of belief that everybody can aspire in equal measures, regardless of what sets them apart in the community.

The drive to create the ‘Equal Sound’ workshop was fuelled by the urge to share our experiences with young people, as they might already have preconceptions and fear surrounding disability. Despite the existence of equal rights, equal respect is still hard to find- not by fault of our own, but by fault of society and education. Leeds University research supports our intentions, by telling us that “…non-disabled children need to experience meeting with disabled people and hear about the realities of their lives. Children who had direct experience of interacting with disabled people in their families or local communities had a more accurate and realistic understanding of the lives of disabled people”.

We sense that Musical ARC’s dynamic route to awareness could be about to hatch grooves in the hearts of many, letting the music speak volumes to youngsters and their teachers.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #3: Monday 4th January 2013 Harmony, Bean Bags and Protest


We proceeded to limber up to the infectious, funky licks of Martin’s guitar. The power that oozed from Musical ARC today was attitude. We seemed to be overflowing with the stuff, evident in the “Hey!” hand gestures that showed face as we sauntered through the beat. Though we may have taken some light inspiration from Ali G Indahouse, the act of blending vocal and limb movements proved useful in rhythm, timing and memory practice. For this exercise, the group had divided in half and created four-beat patterns that were practised simultaneously. Just as we were getting the hang of this aerobic-jam malarkey, a wee chat about the weather and our favourite ice-cream flavour was thrown in, setting the tone for the day.

With brainwork rife amongst members, it was relieving to return to a level of ‘cool’ with the re-entry of our reptile muse. Under Robert’s guidance, we practised Kinyonga, an enlivening, four-part harmony piece that transferred us vividly onto balmy African sands. Post-Chameleon, I found myself in childish awe as we followed the travels of a mischievous yellow bean bag. More specifically, the group were adapting a musical game to the needs of a future Primary School workshop. Watching everyone skip merrily around the circle like jovial banshees, I was too busy awaiting my turn to notice the quantity of musical senses that were being touched. Which is a good thing, by the way.

It was Vicky’s turn to take control for the rest of the session, with a few of her own musical ideas coming to the fore. In a later discussion, we agreed that our findings throughout this hurdle of discovery were similar. This was mainly in realising that original material evolves rapidly when on the spot and that the core focus is on being a concise leader.

The music session occurred in synchrony with some fundamental conversation a few yards down the corridor, in my bespoke clinic. Words were finally freed by members on the subject of our recent relocation, and the issue in our hands and hearts became further pronounced. By the end of our time this week, Musical Arc’s voices were ready to yell for change.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #2: Monday 28th Jan – Branching Out


Teaching and leadership were the resounding themes of this week’s gathering. These skills were visited on a broad spectrum, firstly with volunteers Vicky and I heading for the limelight to conduct a piece of music. Any experience we may have had during our Classically-trained years took a backseat, as we prepared to vocalise tambourine strokes in true beat-boxer fashion. This was a highly therapeutic experience for us. Not only did we develop our ability to communicate musically through movement and voice, but we became more understanding of the work of leaders such as Lorraine and Martin. This newfound empathy shall guide us in providing support to them, with a greater sense of togetherness and authority.

As for the music itself? Well, what began in my mind as a rainforest soundscape using the D Dorian scale quickly erupted into the resemblance of a solemn cowboy. This change of direction (made with audible joy, I have to say!) taught me a new lesson: As a teacher, one must be as organised as possible in all designated areas of the music. Though with artistic intentions set aside, the scale was used because it contains notes that are familiar to the group, so is instantly accessible and ready to blossom into something rich and brooding.

Following this week’s monsoon of creativity, the group congregated for a discussion on Musical Arc’s workshops in primary schools, where feedback was offered and necessary areas of improvement were discovered. We established that we’re all in our element when performing our own threads of the music, but that there is always room for improvement when sending a message to the community. Providing a pathway of disability awareness for children is a major goal that we wish to achieve with our visits, yet we also want to leave them with a sense of achievement. We shall therefore target our teaching skills in the coming weeks.

Lasting progress was seen in Mel’s speciality warm-up today, an exercise that uses our bodies to represent the growth of a tree. A breakthrough was encountered with the agreement that Mel would perform this away from her wheelchair, on the floor. This boosts inner confidence, by ascertaining that the person is first seen for who they are, rather than their disability.

An uplifting and rewarding week, in which our voices were heard and progress was seen.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #1: Monday 14th Jan – New year, new pastures


The first session of the year was introduced through a blizzard of snow. Fearful that we might wind up stranded at the new residency in Meanwood, a thorough warm-up was required. Following hot beverages, workshop-photo-album viewings and much shaking about, Lorraine conducted an improvised vocal exercise that went down a storm (excuse the pun). She sang a free melody alongside Martin’s guitar-chord strumming, and the group echoed her. We were then given the chance to create our own four-beat solos, against the constant challenge of listening and repeating. The exercise culminated in a jungle of acapella sounds that could survive without the guidance of Martin’s guitar. Diverse phrases showed that imagination was live within the group, and other areas such as confidence and timing were visited.

Lungs were further stimulated by Robert’s teaching of a song about a cool, swaggering chameleon. With lyrics foreign and an African-influenced harmony, all members discovered an exciting goal that could be met with future familiarisation and work.

Moving on, a lower rate of attendance this week saw most of the session spent working in small groups, assisting the musical needs of individuals. Some exceptional progress was witnessed in Dawn’s group who, knowing that she communicates via strong visual signal, created physical images as tools to musically direct her. Parts of the percussion instrument she regularly plays were photographed and held alongside a number, which translates as the amount of times she should make that sound. A tried and tested success.

Meanwhile, Matt turned his hand to some rhythm and percussion techniques with Shehnaaz and Leah. In full-group sessions, it became apparent that some rehearsal was needed on the understanding and placement of beat one in the bar. A solid improvement was displayed later, with the inclusion of some fixed, firm percussion grooves.

The remainder of the group were liable for the origins of a completely new musical endeavour. It began in two parts. James, Mave and I (horns and woodwind) were practicing some rather self-assured chord swells, when we were approached from across the tea station by Martin and his heady guitar blues. Agreeing to join him, we found Emma providing an impressively sturdy drumbeat at the command of Robert’s smoky overtones (“The sound of the drum…”). We jammed in unity for a while, and Robert turned his energy to more characters: The horns, the flute… the elephant.

Coming together to close the session, there was an air of true achievement, attitude and zest between members. We shared ideas and brought together the remnants of a possible latest number for Musical ARC, and within this demonstrated individual progress. We saw that this format of operation was beneficial, as working on a more one-to-one basis allowed us to communicate more freely and discover new areas of our musical ability.

Melissa Thompson